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Zo finds mojo, banks his first HR of 2018

Versatile veteran seeing benefits of extended offseason work
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

MILWAUKEE -- Normally, Ben Zobrist takes about one month off after the baseball season ends. He doesn't become a couch potato, but is active with his kids and plays some basketball. This offseason was different, and Zobrist only took a 10-day break after the 2017 season ended. He's seeing the results of the extra work.

Zobrist hit his first home run of the year on Sunday to back Jose Quintana and spark the Cubs to a 3-0 victory over the Brewers.

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MILWAUKEE -- Normally, Ben Zobrist takes about one month off after the baseball season ends. He doesn't become a couch potato, but is active with his kids and plays some basketball. This offseason was different, and Zobrist only took a 10-day break after the 2017 season ended. He's seeing the results of the extra work.

Zobrist hit his first home run of the year on Sunday to back Jose Quintana and spark the Cubs to a 3-0 victory over the Brewers.

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"Zo's feeling pretty good about himself," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He just looks different."

Video: CHC@MIL: Maddon, Quintana, Zobrist on 3-0 victory

A big reason for the new look is that the veteran is healthy. Last year, Zobrist had to deal with a sore wrist that affected the switch-hitter's swing from the right side. What did he do this offseason?

"I changed some things but not everything," Zobrist said. "For sure, I did the same type of workouts, but I did get going earlier in the offseason. I only took 10 days off instead of a whole month. I spent more time trying to build a foundation for my body. I spent the whole month of November focused on getting in really good shape and having that strong foundation."

He tweaked his back early in Spring Training this year, which set him back, and Zobrist said he finally feels good with his legs. It showed when he ran back to grab Manny Pina's pop up in shallow right and end the second inning. Normally, right fielder Jason Heyward gets that ball.

"I knew I could get to it," Zobrist said. "Sometimes I don't know how far [Heyward] is back there. He never called me off and that's why I went for it. It was a good test for me because those balls are a little difficult for me going back. I felt good about that play."

Tweet from @Cubs: W. pic.twitter.com/GL08vHXoyx

Zobrist felt even better after the home run leading off the fourth against the Brewers' Chase Anderson. It wasn't his first off the right-hander; Zobrist now is 9-for-17 with three home runs in his career against Anderson.

"He sees the ball pretty well off me," Anderson said. "Mainly just the fastball. I feel like if I do a better job of locating the offspeed, I have a better chance of being successful [against] him. ... I threw it and I was like, 'That's not where I want to put it.' I threw it right in his sweet spot. If you stay away on him, you'll be more successful that way."

However, the ball stayed fair long enough to count.

"Sometimes things go your way and thankfully that ball stayed fair for me," Zobrist said. "It did start out fair and I saw it hooking, and I thought, 'Just get there, just get to the pole.' It nicked off the side of it. It's nice to get on the board and get some momentum."

In 2016, Zobrist also got off to a good start, batting .260 in April and .406 in a red-hot May. He's batting .360 now, tops among the Cubs' batters, and credited early work with hitting coaches Chili Davis and Andy Haines and with Nate Halm, who helps break down the hitters' video.

"The best thing I can say about that is it's all about rhythm and feel," Zobrist said. "As a switch-hitter, it's hard to find that feel early on. You're two different hitters on two different sides of the plate. Sometimes it takes longer to get into that. I'm really excited about where I'm at now. You just try to keep it going as long as you can."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Ben Zobrist